Sonorants conspiracy: A unified solution to vowel syncope and bogus clusters in English

Artur Kijak (University of Silesia, Katowice)

This paper aims to explore three apparently unrelated phenomena, i.e. syllabic consonants, vowel syncope and bogus clusters. The analysis is couched in the Strict CV approach (Lowenstamm (1996), Cyran (2003), Scheer (2004)) and is based mainly on the examples from English, though some reference to German data is also made. In the analysis of the relevant facts I adopt the lenition theory known as the Coda Mirror (Ségéral and Scheer (1999)).

In this talk I provide some evidence for the intimate relationship of the three phenomena, which, in consequence, allows me to offer a unified solution for them. Moreover, I offer a solution to two traditional problems, that is, an obligatory 'TR' character of bogus clusters (obstruent plus sonorant) and the ban imposed on such sequences to appear in the word-initial position. I point out that it is a sonorant which plays a key role in both phenomena, i.e. vowel syncope and bogus clusters, and the promised unified solution relies heavily on the ability of certain sonorants to play the syllabic function. Therefore, after a short introduction of the relevant facts concerning syllabic consonants, I look more deeply at the behaviour of sonorants in two seemingly unrelated structures, i.e. vowel syncope and bogus clusters. It is pointed out that vowel syncope results in the consonant sequence resembling a bogus cluster, that is, a cluster which is neither a branching onset nor a coda-onset sequence. It follows that vowel syncope and bogus clusters are one and the same phenomenon, with the difference that the former, unlike the latter, involves a syncope-prone schwa. Consequently, they are dubbed 'dynamic' and 'static' bogus clusters respectively. Moreover, it becomes evident that although English abounds in syncope-related and true bogus clusters, their distribution is severely curtailed, that is, they are possible only in the word-internal position. Crucially, I indicate that all the three phenomena, i.e. syllabic consonants, vowel syncope and bogus clusters, have the same origin and stem from the expansionist behaviour of sonorants, which in turn is a reaction of the latter to a positional weakness. The analysis of the phenomena in question contributes to the postulation of the governing-ability scale for different types of nuclei in English. Specifically, it turns out that in English the application of Proper Government is severely restricted. The only nuclei which can be properly governed are those which are lexically empty or hold the left branch of the syllabic consonant. In other words, in English, unlike in Polish, for instance, lexically present nuclei are never properly governed even by the strongest governors, that is, realised vowels. Finally, it is demonstrated that the postulation of the initial empty CV unit at the beginning of the word in English can predict the ban on the word-initial bogus clusters (both 'dynamic' and 'static'). The latter observation is a direct confirmation of the idea proposed by Lowenstamm (1999) and advocated in Kijak (2005) suggesting that the initial empty CV unit is a phonological object which takes part in syllabification and phonological processes.


Cyran, E. (2003) Complexity scales and Licensing Strength in Phonology . Lublin: Wydawnictwo KUL.

Kijak, A. (2005) Polish and English complex consonantal onsets: a contrastive analysis within the Government Phonology framework . Ph.D. dissertation. University of Silesia.

Lowenstamm, J. (1996) CV as the only syllable type. In Durand, J. and B. Laks (eds.). Current trends in phonology. Models and methods. Salford, Manchester: European Studies Research Institute, University of Salford.

Lowenstamm, J. (1999) The beginning of the word. In Rennison and Kühnhammer (eds.). Phonologica 1996. The Hague: Holland Academic Graphics.

Scheer, T. (2004) A lateral theory of phonology. Vol. 1: What is CVCV, and why should it be? Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Ségéral, Ph. and T. Scheer (1999) Is the Coda Mirror a phonological object? Paper presented at the First Annual Meeting of the GDR 1954 "Phonologie" on Lenition and Fortition, Nice.